2021 Industry Outlook: Which Skills Will Be Most In Demand?


The job market in Southeast Asia promises to be more buoyant in 2021, as economies recover from COVID-19 and companies ramp up hiring. Demand will come from emerging sectors and for candidates with sought-after skills.


Besides traditional factors that affect the hiring landscape, demand for talent in 2021 will be shaped by the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted a number of sectors, changed the way people work, and forced companies to accelerate their shift towards digitalization.

Whilst sectors such as retail, tourism and hospitality have been hard hit, the pandemic has created opportunities in other areas such as healthcare and healthtech, pharmaceutical, e-commerce and e-learning/edtech. So-called “challenger banks”, set to disrupt traditional banking, have also seen record-levels of funding in 2020.

Since companies have had to adopt new technologies for remote working, tech/IT will be one of the sectors driving talent demand in 2021, according to a Linkedin blog post“Cloud Engineer” has been identified as the seventh most in-demand job and technical positions such as “Oracle Specialist” are also popular.

According to a recent study by recruitment firm Hays, the most in-demand skills for 2021 will be those that are “deemed critical to project delivery or business operations”. These include: accounting, digital marketing, business development, engineering and project management (click here to learn more about ESSEC's Masters and MBA programs that can help you acquire these skills). 

Geographically speaking, those economies least impacted by or recovering from COVID-19 are likely to see employment pick up the fastest, whilst those facing deeper recessions will see longer-term consequences for unemployment and job markets. According to ManpowerGroup’s Employment Outlook Survey 2021, conducted in October 2020, countries with the strongest hiring intentions include Taiwan, Singapore and the U.S.; those with the weakest are Panama, the U.K. and Switzerland.

Despite the challenges, many companies have stated their plans to continue hiring in 2021. These include international payments business Transferwise, which announced in early December that it planned to hire 750 new employees globally over the next six months; Grab, whose new consortium with Singtel to build a digital bank is set to create 200 new jobs in Singapore, across technology, risk, finance and compliance; and Zoom Video Communications, which recently announced plans to employ “hundreds”  for its new R&D center in Singapore. According to a Straits Times article citing a ManpowerGroup survey, one in five Singapore-based employers plans to ramp up hiring in 2021.

Other factors that will shape the hiring landscape and strategies of HR professionals include workplace trends, such as working from home. Remote working options and increased flexibility mean the best jobs may no longer require migration to capital cities, and lead to a higher concentration of workers in “second-tier” cities.


Despite the challenges posed by a post-COVID landscape, there will be opportunities for graduates in emerging sectors in 2021 and many firms have stated intentions to increase hiring. Further education and adding in-demand skills – particularly those that are essential to companies’ operations – to one’s CV is becoming all the more important. Opportunities for freelancing and entrepreneurship are also on the rise.

 Read: Previous Career Tips

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